The perfect trip: Southern Spain

The perfect trip: Southern Spain

by Mary Del Rosario
Stripes Europe

As summer comes into full swing and the days get longer, sunnier and warmer, the Mediterranean becomes a popular playground for sunseekers. Filled with inviting turquoise waters, Moorish architecture, diverse landscapes and fabulous resorts, Andalucía will steal your heart and be the perfect location to make the most of your summer.        

CITIES

Held under Moorish rule from the 8th to 15th century, the Andalucía region truly captures the essence of Spanish culture. From the food to its cities, this region in Spain is home to some of the country’s best cities. Below are four well-known places to add to your itinerary.  


The breathtaking Plaza de España. 

Seville

The capital of Andalucía, Seville is the epitome of what you think of Spain to be—Flamenco dancers (the birthplace of this dance), sangria and tapas. However, it is also arguably one of the most beautiful cities in this region. One thing you’ll notice as you’re meandering through the streets is how many awe-inspiring buildings Seville has. Bombarded with Gothic architecture, the Seville Cathedral is a sight to behold and commands your attention with its intricate façade. This Roman Catholic cathedral is the third-largest church in the world and is also the largest Gothic one of its kind. Another jaw-dropping building is the Real Alcazar, a royal palace that was built for the Christian King Peter of Castile and showcases Mudejar architecture which encompasses part Gothic, part Islamic style. If you’re a “Game of Thrones” fan and think to yourself how this palace resembles Dorne, you’d be right as this was the location for the kingdom. Because of its popularity, buy tickets online ahead of time as they are likely to sell out quickly. The amazement in popular landmarks continues with Plaza de España, a plaza in the Parque de Maria Luisa. Here you’ll find clashes of Baroque, Renaissance and Moorish influences. Lined with orange trees, exotic flowers and an impressive water fountain, the plaza can be described in one word: breathtaking. 


Málaga at dusk. 

Málaga

Located on beautiful Costa del Sol, Málaga is a popular port city that attracts many throughout the year. Resorts, ranging from kid-friendly to adult-only, dot Costa del Sol’s shoreline. Beach bums are also spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches to soak the sun’s rays. However, like Seville, Málaga’s infrastructure is also dominated by Moorish and Renaissance elements such as the Alcazaba, the well-preserved citadel in Spain that sits mighty on top of the city’s hill and the Málaga Cathedral. This Roman Catholic Church is nicknamed “La Manquita,” or “the one-armed woman,” due to a second incomplete tower. Because the Alcazaba is perched on top of a hill, you can catch the best views of Málaga and can see where the old town meets the new.

Since Málaga is a port city, people watching and taking in all the sights at the port is a must. Puerto de Málaga is peppered with many restaurants with fresh seafood options and ritzy yachts. There are also a handful of beaches to enjoy, for those who want to escape from the city life, even for a few hours. If you want to forget you’re in a city, step foot in La Concepción Botanical Garden, located outside the city center. With over 2,000 plant and bird species from all over the world, the garden welcomes you to an oasis like no other. For those who love to shop, Calle Marqués de Larios is the ideal spot to either window shop or fill your shopping bags. The street is one of Málaga’s busiest shopping areas lined with marble floors and houses all the best names in retail.   


The Granada Cathedral. 

Granada

This city may seem familiar to you if you’ve taken Spanish in high school. Along with Seville, Granada was always mentioned by many Spanish teachers, and for good reason. Known as “the Moorish jewel,” Granada will not disappoint. Of all the sights in this city, the Alhambra is the best-known attraction and calls roughly 8,500 visitors every day. The Alhambra is a palace that was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 but then became a royal residence. The intricate palace is broken up into three parts: the Nazrid Palace, the Alcazaba and Generalife. Deriving from the Arabic word “Al-Hamra” meaning “the red one,” the impressive palace is one to put on your itinerary. 

Though Granada is now mostly a Catholic city, traces of its Moorish routes can still be found in not only the architecture but also Alcaieria, a grand bazaar. Selling spices, leather, silk and other Arab goods, you will be transported to a time when the Moors still conquered Spain. If you’re unsure what to take as a souvenir, buy “fajalauza,” painted ceramics and “granadino,” stained-glass lamps. Be wary of pickpocketers.  

For the more active traveler, put “hike up Sierra Nevada” on your to-do list while here. Translating to “snow-covered mountain range,” Sierra Nevada is every trekker’s dream. This natural park is considered to be continental Spain’s highest point and offers seven popular hiking trails to include Hoya de la Mora-Veleta-Mulhacén, which is arguably Sierra Nevada’s hardest hike.


An aerial view of Cádiz. 

Cádiz

Situated on the Costa de la Luz, Cádiz is a port city that is often overlooked. However, this gem of a city has many traces of history mixed with mythology. This city was named after Neptune’s (the god of freshwater and the sea), son and was an important sea route for commercial trade from the 14th to 18th centuries. Today, you can still see the importance of this once-booming trade route in landmarks such as Torre Tavira, which is Cádiz’s impressive watchtower. Other historic, yet gorgeous landmarks include Cádiz Cathedral which is Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical elements, Castle of San Sebastián, although the castle is closed to visitors until further notice. Because Cádiz is located right on the water, the beaches are definite must-do activities. Playa la Caleta and Plata de la Victoria are the popular ones among beachgoers. Be sure to visit the old town, Barrio del Pópulo, which has many local restaurants, bars and quaint shops that will transport you back in time. 

ANDALUCÍA BUCKET LIST  

Now that you have some knowledge of what popular cities to see in this beautiful region, it’s time to have your pen and paper ready and write these bucket list items on your ever-growing list.

  • Attend a fiesta. During Holy week (Semana Santa), many cities in Andalucía are transformed into a Catholic Procession. The festival of San Juan is also popular with a blazing bonfire.
  • Surf the waves. Due to windy conditions, kite and windsurfing are popular sports here.
  • See a flamenco show. In Seville, there are plenty of shows to choose from.
  • Or learn it. The best way to appreciate Flamenco is by taking lessons and experiencing it hands (and feet) on.
  • Climb La Giralda in Seville. The view from this bell tower makes for a gorgeous picture.
  • Rent a yacht and sail on the Costa del Sol. Sailing while watching the sunset will be the best memory.  
  • Hike up Sierra Nevada. If you want to climb the highest peak, Mulhacén, it’s recommended to have a guide with you.
  • Eat tapas to your heart’s content. Your stomach will be happy you did.  
  • Visit Ronda. The view alone will leave you breathless.
  • Tour Pablo Picasso’s house in Málaga. Art-lovers will appreciate where the popular artist came from.  
  • Party it up in Marbella. Puerto Banús is the place to be seen.
  • Be amazed by the Nerja Caves. Located in Málaga, the series of caverns is a sight to see.
  • Travel to another country in Gibraltar. You can get a stamp in your passport since this rock belongs to England.
  • Be one with nature in Cabo de Gata-NÍjar Natural Park. You can even see flamingoes at Las Salinas.
  • Take a ferry ride into Morocco. There are many ferries going from Málaga to the port of Tangier, Morocco.
  • Visit La Mezquita in Cordoba. This intricate mosque is beautiful beyond words. Though Cordoba is another great city, it can be explored in half a day.

CULINARY AND REFRESHING DELIGHTS

Because many dishes are heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine, the gastronomy scene in Andalucía is one many come to enjoy. From the tapas you can fill yourself from to the sangria you can endlessly sip, here are a few must-tries to please your palette.

  • Tapas – Small plates of anything ranging from paella to cheese. Popular choices include a Spanish omelet, Patatas bravas (fried potatoes in sauce), cured ham, cheese, olives, calamari, mussels, paella and cuttlefish. In Granada, Moroccan specialties such as couscous and kebabs are offered as tapas.
  • “Gambas al Ajillo” – Garlic shrimp drizzled with olive oil and garnished with crushed red peppers. It’s also best served as a tapa.
  • “Arroz con mariscos” – Though Valencia was the birthplace of paella, over half of Spain’s rice is grown in Seville. Their Andalusian take on paella will leave you wanting more.
  • “Jamon serrano” – Dry-cured ham that’s widely known throughout Spain. Try it with bread drizzled with olive oil.
  • “Coquinas” – Clams with a generous amount of garlic, lemon juice and parsley.
  • “Churros” – Fried pastry dough sprinkled in sugar. It’s best paired with hot chocolate. Tejeringo is a version of churros specific to Andalucía .
  • “Pringá” – Slow-cooked pork or roast beef, chorizo or morcilla, and beef or pork fat. This dish is served with crusty bread.
  • “Cola de Toro” – Slow-cooked bull tail with a red wine and vegetable stew. It’s served with potato wedges.
  • “Huevos a la Flamenca” – Fried eggs with potatoes and vegetables served in a clay pot.
  • “Patatas a lo Pobre” – Thinly sliced roasted potatoes served with onion, pepper and garlic.
  • Gazpacho – Refreshing, cold soup that consists of raw, blended vegetables.
  • Jerez Fino – Strong, dry white wine. The grapes used for the wine are from Jerez.
  • Sangria – A perfect drink for those hot Andalusian summer nights that consists of red wine and citrusy fruits. Some restaurants will add brandy for an extra kick.   
  • “Granizadas” – This kid-friendly drink is made from crushed ice and flavored syrups.

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